CARS.COM — Cars.com just gave Chrysler's overhauled minivan, the 2017 Pacifica, our top honor, our Best of 2017 award. As we've done since 2013, we purchased our 2017 winner to put our money where our mouth is: Does the vehicle really hold up as well as we'd hoped? As always, while shopping for the car, we used our personal phone numbers and email addresses to reach out, never revealing that we worked for Cars.com until pricing negotiations were concluded.
There were plenty of Pacificas for sale. As of early December, dealers listed more than 800 new Pacificas on Cars.com within 50 miles of our Chicago offices. We set our sights on the Touring-L Plus, the fourth-highest of five trim levels (LX, Touring, Touring-L, Touring-L Plus and Limited), because it has must-test features such as Chrysler's updated Uconnect multimedia system and its new backseat Uconnect Theater screens. The Touring-L Plus has a raft of luxury and convenience features: power-sliding doors and a power liftgate, power seats, leather upholstery and heaters for the first two rows and the steering wheel, a must in frigid Chicago.
The trim level we wanted accounted for a healthy 23 percent of local inventory at the time. Atop its $38,890 starting price (including destination) we also wanted navigation ($695) and a safety package ($1,995) that added 360-degree cameras, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, a few semiautonomous driving features and a few more features — again, all worth evaluating. In theory, that added up to a $41,580 minivan if we could find one without other extras.
We know all too well from past purchases that the car we want and the cars dealers have can be very different. Such was the case for the Pacifica. We found six Touring-L Plus examples in the area with navigation and the safety package, but all six had other options — a tow package, premium audio, bigger wheels and more. Another wrinkle: We wanted to ensure our prospective minivan was built in September 2016 or later. That's when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reinforced the door structure to improve the van's crash-test ratings. We reached out to dealers about the build dates and confirmed two of them were built before September. That knocked our list down to four.
We ended up test-driving three of them and asked — as we recommend consumers do — for each dealer's best internet price out the door, including the documents fee, license and registration fees, and sales tax. We knew any fair offer should start at least $2,000 off, as Chrysler advertised that much in factory cash at the time.
The offers were better than we'd hoped. On one gray Pacifica that stickered at $44,235, the salesman quoted us $43,114 out the door — far less than its full out-the-door price, which should have been close to $49,000 with typical fees and Chicago sales tax. We test-drove it and asked if he could get us closer to $40,000. He dropped to $43,000 but wouldn't go further. With that offer in writing, we approached another dealer with a red Pacifica that stickered at $43,765 — about $500 less than the first. At full price, the van would have been about $48,300 out the door.
The dealer with the red Pacifica listed the van on Cars.com at $37,765 before taxes and fees, but when we showed up to test-drive it, we learned the listed price included discounts for which we weren't eligible. We also learned it was a demonstration unit with about 750 miles on the odometer. Still, the salesman offered us $43,820 out the door. We presented the $43,000 offer from the first dealer and explained that this red Pacifica stickered at $500 less, so a fair competitive price would be $42,500. If the dealership could beat that by another $500 to get us to $42,000 out the door, it would have our business.
The dealership agreed. We signed an agreement to buy the car at $42,000. Later, the salesman emailed us an offer on an identical non-demo Pacifica with just 12 miles on the odometer, but for the same price. We later learned it was because the employee using the demo unit was out of town, so it was easier to sell us the other van.
We agreed, returned to test-drive it and verify its build date (October 2016). Two days later, on a freezing Thursday in December, we took home our $42,000 Pacifica in what turned out to be a painless transaction. (Well, painless besides the cold.) We paid about $6,300, or 13 percent, below full price. It's not quite as good as we managed on our long-term 2015 Mercedes-Benz C-Class (nearly 14 percent off), but it beat our negotiations on other long-term purchases: our 2015 Honda Fit and 2014 Jeep Cherokee (both about 9 percent off), and our 2016 Volvo XC90 (less than 3 percent off).
Our 2017 Pacifica Touring-L Plus is red with a black interior plus the safety ($1,995) and navigation ($695) packages, 18-inch wheels and a touring suspension ($895), a removable middle seat for the second row ($495), and hands-free operation for the power doors and tailgate ($795).
How will its reliability hold up? Will we get the EPA-estimated 22 combined mpg? Can the Uconnect Theater system maintain backseat road-trip harmony? And how do all those semiautonomous driving features work? Stay tuned for all this and much more as we put the Pacifica to the test throughout 2017.